President Trump is accusing the leadership of America’s top law enforcement agencies of abusing their investigative authority for partisan ends.
In the first of two tweets Friday, ahead of his expected approval of the release of a classified memo written by the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, Trump accused the leaders of the FBI and the Justice Department of politicizing “the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans.”
The second Trump tweet suggests that top law enforcement officials took part in an effort to hide a move by the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to produce misleading information to persuade a judge to approve spying on the Trump campaign.
White House officials say Trump plans to declassify the Nunes memo as soon as Friday. It would then likely be sent back to the House committee for possible release to the public.
Trump is at odds with both the FBI and the Justice Department over whether to make the memo public. In a rare public statement this week, the FBI expressed "grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Critics of the memo say it selectively uses classified intelligence to allege the Russia investigation is affected by political bias.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have prepared their own memo, countering the Republican claims. The top Democrat on the intelligence committee, California Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), told "CBS This Morning" that any move by Trump to make the document public would constitute an attack on the integrity of law enforcement agencies.
“It’s clear from the president that this is exactly the purpose behind this cherry-picking of information that Nunes wants to release," Schiff said. "This is designed to impugn the credibility of the FBI, to undermine the investigation.”
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley says he sees the FBI’s concern as being more political than substantive.
"Notably, the objections by the FBI have been to the memo being "inaccurate" by "omission." That does not sound like a concern over classification. It sounds like a concern over public embarrassment or criticism,” Turley told VOA.
“It is a curious thing to see Democrats expressing outrage at the notion that the Committee would ever question the classification of material by the FBI. Agencies have long been notorious for over-classification of information and the use of classification authority to shield officials from public exposure or criticism,” Turley said.
Former CIA Director James Woolsey, who advised the Trump campaign, said it is important that the classification system works in a “straightforward fashion”. But he told CNN the president has total discretion in releasing information.
“This whole classification system reports ultimately to one individual, the president,” Woolsey said. “So it’s entirely clear that it’s his right under the process to say “I have decided this will not harm the United States and it should be released, or I have decided this would harm the United States so I do not wanted it released. That’s his call,” he told CNN.
David B. Cohen, political science professor at the University of Akron, said he sees release of the Nunes memo as part of a Republican campaign to discredit the Russia probe being carried out by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is also a former FBI Director.
“Trump seems to be laying the groundwork for further firings of high-level DOJ personnel including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as well as the pardoning of key witnesses and family members, Cohen told VOA.
“By utilizing a sustained strategy of publicly criticizing and discrediting the upper ranks and career civil servants of the FBI and DOJ, Trump is attempting to inoculate his base and others that are sympathetic to his plight for when he fires Rosenstein, Mueller, and others,” Cohen said.
Intelligence Committee chairman Nunes called the FBI's objections to release of the memo "spurious."
"The FBI is intimately familiar with ‘material omissions' with respect to their presentations to both Congress and the courts, and they are welcome to make public, to the greatest extent possible, all the information they have on these abuses," Nunes said in a statement.
Trump, while attacking top FBI and Justice Department officials, tried to differentiate between leadership and the rank and file of the investigative agencies. In on his his tweets Friday, Trump wrote “Rank and file great people.”